Parkrun in Sweden
After living in Sweden for 2 ½ years, I finally got to do a bit of parkrun tourism. Billdalsparken parkrun started up in September 2021, shortly after parkrun in Sweden resumed after a break of over 18 months due to the pandemic. However, due to a combination of being on the Core Team at Skatås parkrun and not having a car, this was the first time I had the opportunity to run this event.
Parkrun doesn’t get anything like as many participants here as you find in the UK. When I first visited Skatås parkrun in June 2019, I was expecting several hundred runners and found there were around 50. Apparently that’s the usual number, it wasn’t that my attendance resulted in an unusual number of cancellations. Billdalsparken, as the newer parkrun in the Gothenburg area, had an attendance record of 24 – until today. Today was different. Sweden takes national holidays on the day they land, rather than moving them to the nearest Monday. There are few things as desperately depressing as having your day off land on a day off. Luckily, today was both a Monday and Sweden’s national day. It also helpfully coincided with the Queens Jubilee weekend in the UK, where a lot of our parkrun tourists come from, which resulted in parkruns all over Scandinavia experiencing an influx of visitors on the Saturday and the Monday, here for the chance to run 2 parkruns in one long weekend. Also, one has to assume, for a little bit of relief from the endless Royalty coverage. Sometimes you need to run fast to escape it, and sometimes you need to run as far away as Sweden, and then run a bit there too. The Skatås core team decided not to host an event on the Monday, hoping that we would get an influx of tourists on the Saturday (which we did) and then enjoy Billdalsparken on the Monday.
Getting to Billdal
Billdal is around 23 km south of where I live in the north-east of Gothenburg. Unfortunately there are no direct trams or buses from where I stay, so it is a bit of a trek to get there. I have cycled there multiple times before, but adding 46 km of cycling on top of a 5 km run seemed a little excessive, and a little too much of a warm up. Thankfully one of the other Skatås Run Directors (RDs), Jonas, offered me a lift. I therefore had a nice gentle run of a couple of miles to our meeting point, then had a fast and easy drive on quiet roads to get to the parkrun. The drive only took around 20 minutes, and we got there in plenty of time. Angela and Brian had also just arrived, so Jonas parked next to them.
Pre-Event Briefing/ Socialising
I ran off ahead of the others as I was keen to find the toilets! The Run Director (Loppansvarig in Swedish), Jan Larsson, recognised me from Skatås, and we had a very quick chat. I told him (in Swedish) that Brian, Angela and Jonas would be here very shortly, but I had the most important question for him: where were the toilets? The answer: they are behind the lovely Systrarna Werner Café. At first I couldn’t find them, worrying that he meant literally ‘you go behind the café’. Thankfully a fellow runner was heading the same way, and we found them. A quick visit there and I jogged back to the Start area, by which point the first timer’s briefing was already underway. I should have gone to that, but I’d already recce’d the course with Jeff a few weeks beforehand, and I wasn’t in any danger of being out in front in my current form. Instead I stood around chatting, something I’d never countenance in any of my students had I been giving a lecture. Several of the tourists who had been at Skatås on Saturday were there, including Gill and Scott, and the lovely Angie was visiting from Scotland. I hadn’t seen her since we met at Skatås parkrun just before the pandemic, then ran a section of the Gotaleden trail the next day. At the start of March. Through mud and ice. She had got there really early and had already walked the route, so didn’t need to attend the first timers briefing either. I forgot to ask to meet her companions Hamish and Ted though!
The pre-event briefing was a little late in starting due to the numbers, and the RD took the opportunity to take a photo of the large crowd of runners. We then made our way to the start line and were off.
Getting Back into Running
Regular readers (if there are any still out there) will have noticed a dearth of posts over the past 2 ½ years. This is because, 3 months after moving to Sweden, Covid-19 happened. I don’t know if it made the news back where you are, but it was in all the papers over here. All mass participation events, including parkrun, got cancelled. I did actually keep running regularly for almost 2 years, but the past 8 months I have been in a massive running slump due to various factors. Those include getting to grips with actually having a full-time job again, joining the core team at Skatås reducing my ability to actually run on Saturdays, prioritising cycling over running due to an upcoming 800 km(ish) cycle tour to Norway, a bout of covid-19 followed a month later by the flu, and some other issues, all of which impacted on my supply of both time and motivation. I used to run 40 – 50 km a week as base training, but the last time I did a 40+ km week was at the end of October 2021. Since then, I’ve had several weeks with no runs at all, and very few over 15 km per week. As a result, my running fitness is actually lower than when I started running back in 2017. I’m sure the five years of ever advancing age haven’t contributed to that. I became too slow to run with the slowest pace group in my running club, so haven’t had the benefit of regular training with others this year. That might be a problem until I find a club comprised of equally elderly women.
I have been making more of an effort over the past few weeks though, and I think the cycling has helped a little. My parkrun nemesis also reappeared at Skatås after over 2 years absence, and though he was 20 seconds ahead of me a couple of weeks ago, that is now down to a 1-second gap. I hope to get faster than him again, but suspect his times will improve much faster than mine, what with him having the benefit of being so much younger than me. It’s all good-natured competition, and helps with motivation. Mine at least – I suspect being overtaken by an elderly woman like me won’t do his motivation any good should it happen.
Having run a 26:29 at Skatås a fortnight ago, followed by a 26:10 this weekend, I wasn’t sure what was a realistic time to aim for at Billdalsparken. I told my fellow runners that I was hoping for sub 26 minutes. I really wanted sub 25, but, even with a flatter course, guessed that was not realistic at this point in time. I decided to play it by ear. That was my first mistake, because you run with your feet for the most part.
Actually running Billdalsparken parkrun
Billdalsparken is largely flat, on a mixture of asphalt (around 60%) and gravel. RD Jan had warned me that the first 600m are uphill. In comparison to Scotland, Sweden is like a billiards table – it’s easy not to take Swedes seriously when they talk about inclines. It is a very gentle slope, but you notice it on the 2nd time around the 2-lap course if you’ve not been taking it easy. There were a lot of runners at the start, but the path is wide enough there that there was no congestion, and I was able to keep moving at a comfortable pace. Angie shot off into the distance, and finished nearly 3 minutes ahead of me as 2nd female. Jonas, who had said he wanted to take the first lap slow, then think about whether or not to speed up on the second lap, breezed past me after around 300 metres. A few other folk also went by me, but I stuck to my pace. My watch readings were all over the place thanks to the trees, so I had no idea what my pace actually was. We ran past the road up to the café on the left, then a children’s play area on the right, which was very quiet at this time of the morning. Brian was still visible up ahead, but I know he is in much better form than me just now, so I made no attempt to catch up with him. I was half expecting Henrik to breeze past me, as he had on Saturday, but he was running with a backpack today and decided to take it easy.
I saw Gill slightly ahead, and, as on Saturday, we seemed to be running at a similar pace. After around 500 metres there is a right-hand turn to head down towards the bridge, then at around 700 metres you head left across the bridge and up a mercifully short hill before looping back leftwards. I caught up with Gill shortly before the bridge, and we had a quick chat about her weekend, and her goal for the morning. We had run the final 3.5 km together at Skatås on Saturday, but she told me not to wait for her this morning as she wasn’t planning to push as hard today on tired legs. I said she would probably go past me later on, but I eased ahead and tried to slowly reel in the lady in front. I thanked the Marshal at the top of the hill, and turned left along what I think was a gravel section of the route.
The 1km sign appeared just after the next right-hand turn, and was a welcome sight. I had stupidly left my watch in minutes per mile, so checked the time: 5:11. I wasn’t sure if this pace was sustainable, so a sub 26 was not guaranteed. There were little sections of gentle downhill slopes though, so it was nice to try to stretch the legs a little on those. Plus my aforementioned ears, which were not doing well on the asphalt.
The 2nd kilometre sees you running out towards the edge of the park, along a well-signposted asphalt path, with a fairly sharp left-hand turn at the top of a hill. There was a Marshal at the top of the hill there, directing us to the left. This meant we were now heading back towards the start. This took us through what I think was a school playground. There were Parkrun signs chalked on the asphalt, with arrows helpfully showing us the route through the school. We headed to the left down the side of the school, then right onto another asphalt path with a nice slight downhill section, then had another very short climb up to another marshal who was directing us leftwards. Another right-hand turn shortly afterwards took us on a path back past the bridge we had crossed earlier, then we were back onto the route we had run up from the start, meaning we were back into the main section of the park, and had a nice gentle downhill to the turning point.
One of the things about multi-lap courses is the worry of being lapped. With a 2-lap course, and with a goal time of around 26 minutes, I knew that wouldn’t happen unless a world-class 5km runner was there. But the long, straight stretch back to the start area means you do pass the faster runners, and vice versa, between 2 and 3km. There was a photographer waiting for us just after the bend, and I attempted to smile. I haven’t seen the photos yet so have no idea how convincing it was. Checking my watch at the 2km sign, I saw the time was 10:37. Something of a slow-down from the first kilometre, so I was still feeling concerned about the sub 26 minutes goal. Sub 25 was definitely a pipe dream at this point. Shortly after the 2km sign, the lead guys started to go past. I like this, as you get to see good running technique, very long stride lengths, and people looking comfortable at paces that I’ve never been able to maintain for more than 2 minutes, let alone 19. I said “Bra jobbat” (good job, in Swedish) to the first several runners who passed me, then realised there was a higher chance that they spoke English than Swedish. I tried to play “pick the right language” but mostly acknowledged the other runners in both languages if I was capable of speaking. I worked out that those lead runners were at least 800 metres ahead of me, so if we both maintained our current pace, they would finish when I still had around a mile left to run. I got to see how far Ingemar, Angie, Jonas, Scott and Brian were ahead of me, and cheer them on, then got enthusiastic encouragement from the Start area volunteers as I ran around the (massive) cone to begin the second lap.
I was mercifully distracted from the slight uphill by the chance to see all the runners behind me who were heading down towards the turning point. It turned out I had a good 15 second gap or so on the runners behind. I again gave encouragement to the runners coming the opposite way, particularly Gill, Henrik – who is one of our Skatås regulars, and Angela, who was running her first parkrun in 5 months after an injury in December last year, and who had been a little concerned that her knee wouldn’t hold up for the full 5 km. Thankfully it did.
I couldn’t see a 3km sign. I don’t know if that is because there wasn’t one, or if I am just unobservant. So I had no idea what my pace was doing. When my watch buzzed 2 miles I was happy to see that the second mile had been slightly faster than the first (8:33, compared to 8:38 for the first mile). I did some mental arithmetic and worked out that meant I had under 9 minutes to do the final 1.1 miles – assuming the GPS was accurate, which would be a tough ask. Nothing for it but to keep running, and hope the GPS was short, as it often is in wooded areas.
Around about 4km I finally saw the tail walker, I was slightly confused as to why I was behind him, until I realised I was about to begin lapping people. Not many, but a few. I think I was passing a woman with a young boy who was wearing a V25 t-shirt near where the photographer was crouching. Having seen the video, I now know that it was actually a video that was being taken, and Jonas’ tips on how to improve my running stride length are not the only things I need to take into consideration. Smooth and effortless are not words that could be used to describe my running style at the moment. Ungainly and inefficient are more accurate. Imagine someone woke someone up while they were wearing a life-sized duck costume and pushed them out a door down a hill they weren’t expecting. I look like someone that’s been running for ages and only just worked out what knees are for. I’ve made a note of the timestamp so I can rewatch it and try not to cringe.
I passed the 2 km sign again, and people were heading past me in the opposite direction. They would still have over 2 km to go, and I again tried to give encouragement. By this point though I was really gasping for breath and struggling to speak, so it probably sounded more like I was barking orders at them. Or possibly heavy breathing in a way that would get me arrested if anyone knew my name. That 2km sign (I hadn’t seen a 4 km one) meant I had around 500 metres to go. I looked at my watch and couldn’t quite work out what that meant for a sub-26 time. It seemed like a really long way, and there were people to cheer on coming the other way, but nobody to chase down. My watch hadn’t buzzed 3 miles yet, and I was concerned there might be an extra bit I hadn’t known about – if only I had gone to the first timers briefing. Thankfully it was just a GPS issue. I discovered I had just a little something left in the tank, and kicked with around 200 metres left to go. 25 minutes had already gone, but I should manage sub 26 after all. I crossed the line to enthusiastic support, and ran on for a couple of seconds, gasping for breath, before slowing and gasping some more. I had completely forgotten to take my finish token, and Anna-Carin (I think) was calling me back to collect it. I asked Anette if she could tell me my time, but I was too far down the list to find (in position 26) so she sent me to ask Timekeeper Dan (another Brit in Sweden) who kindly informed me that my time was 25:42. My fastest parkrun of the year, but still 5 seconds slower than my first ever parkrun in 2017. I couldn’t have gone any faster though, and according to my heart rate monitor my average heart rate (183bpm!) was above the maximum safe heart rate for a woman of my age. Having had 20 seconds to recover, I felt completely fine, and we spent the next half an hour or so chatting, taking photos in the parkrun frame, cheering participants across the finish line, and anticipating the fika afterwards.
The Excellent Systrarna Werner Café
Some people had wisely gone to the Cafe early, but we had wanted to wait until the final runners were in. This resulted in a fairly long queue for the café. It was worth the wait though. Just look at this kladdkaka.
I’d say I didn’t need any lunch afterwards, but truth be told I did have a sandwich mid-afternoon when the sugar rush wore off. A large proportion of the tourists had stayed for fika, and it was great to talk to some of them. This is one of the best parts of parkrun, and even if you don’t have any interest in running, it’s worth it for the cake and company. Of course, in Sweden it’s still legal to buy a cake and talk to people without running. Parkrunners are some of the most friendly people I have ever encountered, and it’s a lovely way to start the day. I don’t know why it isn’t more popular here in Sweden yet. In the UK we are lucky that the BBC makes a point of running news stories about it, and it is often recommended by GP surgeries too. I wonder if we can get SVT and Vårdcentrals here to champion it too.
Billdalsparken is a lovely 2-lap parkrun set in the beautiful Billdals park. It is easily reachable from the centre of Gothenburg, and is very close to the sea if you fancy a dip afterwards. It is flatter than Skatås, and it has the best café I’ve ever been to after a parkrun. The small number of runners compared with UK parkruns makes it more cosy, and very friendly. You will probably have time to speak to everyone if you want to, and pretty much everyone can speak fluent English, so you don’t need to worry about not understanding anything. If you are thinking of doing some parkrun tourism, Billdalsparken is worth a visit.
Most photos in this post were taken either by myself, other participants kindly taking photos for me on my phone, or by Angie Main. A couple of the crowd shots, and the one of me running, were taken by volunteers at the event. Permission was received to use these photographs, and many other photos from the event can be found on the Billdalsparken parkrun Facebook page.
 If you know, you know.